The Regency. February 2014.

Dear Rowley,

I’ve often said there’s a bit of gypsy in me: no comments please. But I had a serious premonition last week when the Duchess of Cambridge arrived alone at the National Portrait Gallery looking every inch a Princess wearing a very significant piece of jewellery: HM The Queen’s Nazim of Hyderabad diamond necklace. The necklace, acquired by Cartier in 1935, was a wedding present from the Nazim to the then Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and was apparently the lady’s personal choice.

Though The Queen’s personal collection of jewels is as extensive as it is priceless, the lion’s share of Her Majesty’s diamonds are inherited from successive queens and consorts. A very few pieces were set or given to The Queen such as the Williamson Pink diamond brooch, the South African diamond demi-parure, the City of London diamond fringe necklace and the diamond festoon collet necklace. For Her Majesty to loan the Duchess of Cambridge one of these precious personal pieces was evidently a sign of affection and approval.

Now for the premonition. Bear with. Much censure has been heaped upon Prince William for attending a wild boar shoot on the Duke of Westminster’s Spanish estates days before appearing with his father at Lancaster House to serve as patron of endangered species. I happen to agree that a member of the Royal Family can’t be a friend to the elephants and tigers while taking pot shots at commoner species: smacks of hypocrisy. But that’s not my point. Bear with.

A number of years ago a dear friend of mine who is a scion of one of the oldest noble families in Italy lost her son in a hunting accident. He was killed by a stray bullet while hunting wild boar. The young count’s untimely death flashed before my eyes when I read about Prince William hunting in Spain. What, I wondered, would happen should Prince William suffer a similar fate? The answer is of course that when (God forbid) Her Majesty and her successor the Prince of Wales die then Prince George would be King in minority and a Regent would have to be appointed.

In the history of the British monarchy, Regencies have been few and far between. A Regency was avoided by months when King William IV lived just long enough to ensure his niece Queen Victoria was eighteen when she came to the throne in 1847. Prior to that, the only child king was Henry VIIIs son Edward VI. His uncle served as Regent but only because Edward’s mother Jane Seymour had died in childbirth. Apart from Queen Victoria’s mother the venal Duchess of Kent, the only other woman who came within a whisker of becoming Regent was Anne Boleyn.

On the 24th of January 1536, Henry VIII was unseated from his horse during a joust and it was reported to his pregnant queen Anne Boleyn that the king was dead. Had the king died, Queen Anne would have become Regent for her three-year old daughter Queen Elizabeth I. Having studied Anne Boleyn’s character a little, I have no doubt that Queen Anne would have ruled with Thomas Cromwell at her side and entirely sidelined her father Thomas Boleyn and her wicked uncle the Duke of Norfolk. As it transpired, Henry VIII recovered, Anne miscarried and within four months she was executed on charges of adultery, incest, witchcraft and treason.

Coming back to the future, should Prince William die and Prince George succeed there is only one logical choice as Regent and that would be the Duchess of Cambridge. Of course she would be advised by the Prime Minister and Privy Council but she would be the acting monarch until Prince George reached his majority. When the Duchess appeared at the National Portrait Gallery wearing the Nazim of Hyderabad diamond necklace and a regal floor length midnight blue princess dress designed by Jenny Packham, it struck me how much she looked like Her Majesty. There’s a Dorothy Wilding portrait of the young Queen wearing the Nazim of Hyderabad necklace and a black scalloped evening gown and the similarities are uncanny.

Of course in the natural order of things, Prince Charles will succeed Her Majesty and Prince William his father. But the gypsy in me does have a feeling that the natural order will not be followed. It rarely does in the British monarchy whether it be a childless monarch, a Regicide, an ousted unpopular king or an abdication. People tend to be comforted thinking that in the modern age none of the above could happen and up to a point they are right. But death has no respect for the natural order. Think about the monarchs who should have inherited but were denied by the Grim Reaper: Prince Henry (James Is eldest), Princess Charlotte (George IVs daughter) and Prince Eddy (Edward VIIs first born).

Prince William’s wild boar shoots will not, I sincerely hope, end in human blood shed. But they do suggest that he has far weaker instincts for the British public’s expectations of the monarchy than his wife obviously has. In the early years of the marriage, it was not so much mooted as shouted from the rooftops that the late Diana, Princess of Wales was the woman who would modernise the British monarchy. The disintegration of the Prince and Princess of Wales’s marriage put paid to that theory long before that lovely lady’s death. Perhaps lessons have been learned and it is the Duchess of Cambridge who is the future for the family Windsor. Until next time…